Why I’ve outgrown NaNoWriMo

Posted by Chris Rosser on Sun 10 November 2019
Hello! This site is archived and no longer maintained. For Chris' main site go to chrisrosser.net

I’m ten days into NaNoWriMo 2019. I decided to return this year, having missed the last event due to family commitments. I’m working on a somewhat secretive and risky project, and figured NaNoWriMo’s frenetic marathon was just what I needed…

Boy, was I wrong!

I’ve come to realise that doing so was a mistake. The event no longer holds the same appeal and benefit to me that it once did - and changes to the NaNoWriMo experience have scuttled the social experience.

No longer a social experience

Writing is a lonely business. For many writers, NaNoWriMo offers the chance to connect with others, sharing a common challenge.

This year, the organisers of NaNoWriMo completely rebuilt the website and nuked every participant’s friend list. Over my 11 years as a member, I’d made quite a few friends all over the world. I’m faced with having to rebuild that list — and doing so by reaching out on social media. To be honest, I can’t be arsed. I do most of my socialising with my peers on Twitter — I can’t afford the time to rebuild that community within NaNoWriMo’s walled garden.

On that note, only NaNoWriMo members can see a participant’s profile. Whereas in the past I could share the link to my profile publicly, so readers, friends and family to keep abreast of my progress, that’s no longer possible.

Part of NaNoWriMo’s appeal was its social aspect -- that’s evaporated

Another deathblow is the removal of the NaNoWriMo word count API. This mechanism allowed people to built progress widgets or even full apps. One I really enjoyed was the NaNoFaces app, which allowed people in a given region to display their progress in a leaderboard. It was a lot of fun, and seeing other people’s word counts was a great motivator. I was also planning this year to write a widget for my website’s What I'm working on right now section1.

Part of NaNoWriMo’s appeal was its social aspect — that’s evaporated. With the changes, NaNoWrimo’s municipal liaisons are not encouraging participants to turn to Discord and other social media platforms. I want to use less social media, not more, and when I spend time on social media, it’s to connect with my friends and my readers.

The way I write has changed

The changes to NaNoWriMo’s website might have been the last nail in the coffin, but I’ve been slowly hammering them in for years. NaNoWriMo means something different to each and every participant. I used the event to kick start or finish projects. Sometimes I experimented and wrote something completely different — like a modern techno-thriller as I did in 2017. Since publishing my first two books, I find that need is less relevant to me now.

NaNoWriMo encourages bad habits

I know this might ruffle some feathers, but I’ve found NaNoWriMo encourages lousy writing habits. The stated goal is to challenge people to write 50,000 words in a month. The only thing that matters is participating, the only measure of success is the word count.

To successfully write a 50,000 manuscript in 30 days, you must write on average 1667 words a day. For those of us with full-time jobs, families, and other commitments that daily commit can become a gruelling slog. The initial fun and optimism you feel on the first few days of November quickly giving way to despair and exhaustion. More so when you realise you’re writing garbage just to satisfy your word count.

The organisers and most participants — at times myself included — espouse the mantra of quantity over quality. NaNoWriMo’s is to get you to write, not write well. There is merit in this. For many, the act of merely starting to write is a significant impediment, as is the feeling that what one writes is worthy. NaNoWriMo has helped thousands of writers overcome that paralysis.

Yet, that’s not how I write. My time is too precious to waste writing crap first drafts that I’ll have to throw out and rewrite. My last successful (in terms of word count) NaNoWriMo project is such a mess it will take months of effort to redraft. Given that I’m neck-deep in a fantasy series, I’ve got to be honest and admit I’ll likely never return to it.

I do much better with a slower and more measured approach — often editing and revising as I go.

So, now what?

I will continue writing my current book but will do so on my terms — much as I’ve done since publishing my first book in 2018. I see no point any more in participating in this year’s NaNoWriMo.

But for those of you who still enjoy the experience, and are participating this year, I wish you the very best of luck and happy writing!

Cover photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

  1. I have plans now to implement my own dynamic word count 

Wow you read this far! This site is archived and no longer maintained. For Chris' main site go to chrisrosser.net